- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

Rush Limbaugh is a memory at ESPN after falling into the connect-the-dots snare of sports journalism.

Here is what Limbaugh said: “We were brought over here for the heat. Isn’t that history? Your skin color is more conducive to heat than it is to the lighter-skinned people. I don’t see brothers running around burnt.”

Oops. Strike those words from Limbaugh’s mouth.

That sociological insight belongs to Cubs manager Dusty Baker, who believes blacks and Latinos have a pigment advantage over whites in baseball’s summer months.

Perhaps blacks and Latinos do enjoy an advantage over whites under a hot summer sun.

Who knows? Who cares, really?

Blacks appear to enjoy a considerable advantage over whites at the speed positions in the NFL.

Why is that? Who knows? And again, who cares, really?

America is not ready to discuss the combination of race and sports in an open, honest forum, if, in fact, a discussion is necessary.

Whenever the subject comes up, you are obligated to follow certain rules.

Limbaugh, the provocateur, did not do this, of course.

Instead, regarding Donovan McNabb, the celebrated quarterback of the Eagles, Limbaugh said, “I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.”

With that comment, Limbaugh merely revealed himself to be out of the comfort of his political environment, as opposed to racist.

What he said might have been accurate 15-20 years ago. But black quarterbacks are hardly a novel item in the NFL these days.

Sports journalists still keep score on the racial sports front. But they have graduated to the number of black head coaches in the NFL. Once that issue is resolved, they will advance to the ownership ranks.

This is just how the bean-counting game is played in sports journalism. It is easy. It is simple. It does not really amount to a lot unless you absolutely, unequivocally believe in the power of a game that is filled with a statistically negligible portion of the population.

You want perspective on the topic?

Try the broken-down D.C. public school system that is in charge of educating 67,000 mostly minority students.

You want to demonstrate your socially sophisticated conscience in a meaningful way, with a proper sense of priorities?

Start with the city’s public education system. Imagine the pain. Then get mad.

And consider this: The troubles of that system inevitably have an impact on you on some level, no matter who you are, while the question of McNabb being somehow overrated because of the color of his skin is immaterial. It is just studio television noise.

For the record, McNabb is a three-time Pro Bowl selection who has led the Eagles to the NFC Championship game in each of the last two seasons. To be honest, McNabb looks awfully special for someone dealing with the charge of having an exaggerated profile.

But that is beside the point.

The point is: Here we go again.

Limbaugh felt compelled to resign because of his innocuous opinion, and the courageous suits at ESPN could not accept his resignation soon enough.

This follows the predictable pattern, going back to Ted Koppel’s interview with Al Campanis in 1987.

If you are white and you are perceived to have stepped on a racial land mine, you must be sent out of the room, preferably to a re-education camp. Fair or not, that is the deal.

This is fairly disagreeable stuff, no doubt, because we probably all have made inappropriate comments at one time or another, this space included.

Limbaugh’s comment was not even inappropriate, just out of date. He merely wondered whether the hype that accompanies McNabb is connected to the color of his skin.

Chris Berman should have interjected at that point and said, “Rush, you are showing your inexperience in the sports culture. Hype is what we do. We in the sports culture rarely think much deeper than the average high school student voting on senior superlatives.”

If Limbaugh had voiced something similar regarding Herman Edwards or Marvin Lewis, people might have said, “Well, he probably should not have put it that way, but he could be right.”

The playing field is not level, which is one aspect of the controversy on which both sides agree, although for different reasons.

Blacks see slights at every turn, real or imagined, while whites see the ever-fluctuating standards of the marketplace.

Coincidentally, on the day Limbaugh proved to be behind the times, Fox sideline reporter Pam Oliver, in a pregame piece on the defensive line of the Panthers, inspected the complexion of the six assembled players and noted the alleged “tokenism” of the one white face.

This qualified as ha-ha stuff, the opposite of what the reaction would have been if she had been dumb enough to try that joke on one black sitting with five whites.

By the way, Baker still has a job after his comments barely resonated with the national press, which was a good thing.

Baker is entitled to his opinion, accurate or not, and you felt reasonably certain at the time that the team’s higher-ups and players were capable of addressing it if they objected to it.

If the national standard is destined to be one off-kilter comment and you are out of a job, we probably are looking at some serious unemployment numbers.

It never ceases to amaze which things work people into a lather.

Some find passion in the musings of Limbaugh.

Others, on a more practical level, are a whole lot more passionate around the professional car-sitters of the city.

No, the car is fine. Honest. Really.

The car does not need you to rock it to sleep.

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